Justin King | The Anti-Media
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The country has been hotly debating the topic of militarization of local law enforcement, and it has its first case study. Bank robbers take three hostages and flee the scene of the crime. Law enforcement provides a massive response, including an armored vehicle. An intense gun battle follows, the prized armored vehicle is disabled, and all of the hostages are shot. Thumbnail screen capture: abcnews.go.com
As has been repeatedly pointed out, when departments adopt a militarized stance, they begin to adopt military concepts. One of those concepts is “acceptable losses.” While the officers that violated every rule of hostage situations may have viewed the customers and employees of the bank as expendable, it is a certainty that their families don’t share that viewpoint. The officers that returned fire on a vehicle with hostages should be held criminally responsible for the results of their actions.
When a criminal or terrorist takes a hostage, they are trying to avoid capture and are banking on the fact that law enforcement will act as public servants. Stockton Police officers were not acting in good faith when they continued a high-speed chase and returned fire. It was not in the interest of justice or public safety.
In a hostage situation the goal of law enforcement is to diffuse the situation, not escalate it. According to standard doctrine, law enforcement should stay just close enough to maintain visible contact with the suspects during a mobile hostage crisis. A helicopter, even a news helicopter, can be used to maintain a visual on the suspect until the suspect stops or can be forced to stop. Then the perimeter is formed and negotiations begin. Scouring Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for law enforcement agencies that could be found online, there is not a single instance of an SOP that allows officers to open fire on a moving vehicle in which hostages may be present. After reviewing the available information, this journalist could not find a single instance during this incident in which the officers acted in the public’s best interest or within any known SOP.
Even the slain hostage’s family members know the police are responsible.
“They had plenty of opportunities to stop it because they were going into Stockton this way and that. They had plenty of time to lay down tracks (spike strips) and whoever the dispatcher was… didn’t want to lay down the tracks. They wanted to wait until SWAT (could arrive).”
In fact, the officers were so ill-trained in hostage situations, that they were unable to read the clear signal of a hostage being dumped from the moving vehicle as a sign to back off. Even after it happened a second time, the officers still pursued hostage-takers firing wildly at the vehicle. At no time did the safety of the hostages seem to be a concern. At the very least, this is criminal negligence.
According to Shouse California Law Group, in order to convict someone in California of criminal negligence a prosecutor will need to prove three things:
- that the defendant acted so recklessly that he/she created a high risk of death or great bodily injury,
- that the act(s) demonstrated a disregard for human life or indifference to the consequences, and
- that a reasonable person in a similar situation would have known that the act(s) naturally and probably results in harm to other people.
This is an open and shut case for any prosecutor. No person concerned with life would open fire on a car containing just as many hostages as suspects.
If a bullet from one of the officers struck the deceased hostage, that officer should be charged with involuntary manslaughter, at a minimum. The same law group states that
Involuntary manslaughter in California occurs when one person kills another unintentionally, either
- while committing a crime that is not an inherently dangerous California felony, OR
- while committing a lawful act which might produce death, without due caution.
These are the minimum charges that should be leveled. These officers could have saved everyone a lot of time if they had just rammed the vehicle off the road, dragged the hostages and robbers from the vehicle, and executed all of them on the side of the road. The amount of care shown for the life of the hostages would be the same.
Here is some raw footage of the hostage situation recorded in Stockton on 7/16/14:
Americans need to take notice of this incident. Militarized police and armored vehicles don’t save lives, and they don’t make the streets safer. They create a violent police force. They kill civilians. They kill a mother whose child is waiting in the bank parking lot.
Author’s note: I often place myself in dangerous situations when meeting and interviewing “criminal” elements within society. I beg my readers to remember that if I am ever taken hostage, please just round up the nearest homeless veterans, give them a bottle of Jack Daniels and a couple of rifles, and send them out to rescue me. I’d rather take my chances with them than a police department that would open fire on hostages.